FAQ – Fox Problems

Please feel free to call us.  We will provide free advice on the telephone.  Every garden or area is different and we will be happy to provide a free quote for remedial works.

Foxes are protected under a series of wildlife protection laws against poisoning, gassing, asphyxiating, maiming, stabbing, impaling, drowning, clubbing and most forms of snaring, with anyone convicted of carrying out such acts liable to 6 months imprisonment and/or a £5,000 fine per animal.

The fox is sometimes referred to as vermin, but it is not, and never has been categorised as such by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Some pest controllers charge huge fees to cage-trap nuisance foxes which are then either shot or dumped miles away. A fox dumped in a strange territory will find itself in competition for food with resident foxes. This causes significant stress and leads to an increase in the numbers of reported cases of mange as well as in the number of road casualties. Thus the removal of a fox from its home range and dumping it elsewhere (known as ‘hard-release) is almost certainly an offence of cruelty under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 and is condemned by the government’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Reputable wildlife rescue groups do relocate foxes occasionally, but use a system known as ‘soft release’ whereby volunteers protect and feed the relocated fox until it has time to settle into its new environment.

In any event, the removal of a fox from its territory merely creates a vacancy for another fox to move into – often within days – and is therefore pointless. Humane deterrence techniques allow the nuisance animals to remain in their territory, but ‘educates’ them to either change the behaviour that is causing a problem, or to avoid the location or property where they are causing a nuisance. This is a service for people suffering genuine wildlife nuisance, helping to resolve or at least mitigate such problems safely, legally and at reasonable cost without harming the wild animals.

With kind permission of Trevor Williams of The Fox Project (Reg. charity No. 1044928) we have reproduced some of their factsheets.

Deterrence

Most fox ‘nuisance’ experienced by people in urban and suburban areas falls into three categories; digging, fouling and noise.

These are all aspects of natural fox behaviour.  Depending on time of year and location, digging may be to establish a breeding earth, a bolt-hole, a route from a to b or simply to locate insect and invertebrate prey.

Fouling, whilst a natural function in itself, is also a means of marking territory.  For the same reason a pet dog urinates against every tree it passes, a fox creates ‘signposts’ for the information of other animals, often using dominant features such as drainpipes, wall corners or even garden gnomes!

Because this is part of normal fox territorial behaviour, it is easy to get in on the act by using an artificial ‘scentmark’.  This is where a good fox repellent comes in.

A scentmarking contest between two animals usually results in acceptance by each of their dominant or subordinate position in the pecking order.  However, where the ‘scentmark’ cannot be identified and contested, an animal may become nervous and choose to avoid the area.  In effect, repellents use the animal’s own ammunition against it.

Having extensively tested every repellent on the market, we regard the most effective products as “Scoot” and “Get Off My Garden”.  These are safe, proprietary mammal repellents and are available from www.fox-a-gon.co.uk.

“Get Off My Garden” is a general purpose repellent, which may be used at ground level or underground and which can be applied directly onto growing plants.   “Scoot” is effective as a foliage or lawn spray where fouling or digging is taking place.

Not all methods of deterrence involve chemicals.  During experiments carried out in association with Greenwich University, we found ultrasonic devices broadly ineffective, but a water driven gadget, called “Scarecrow”, has proven to be very  effective.

The level of advice that can be provided without on site viewing carries no guarantee of success, because all situations are unique and a consultant can no more guarantee to solve your problem by ‘phone or email than a plumber can fix your pipes by telepathy.

Concise DIY advice may be obtained from our Fox Deterrence Helpline.  A general information leaflet is also available from our Admin Office. We recommend a highly experienced wildlife consultancy www.fox-a-gon.co.uk.

But why deterrence?  Can’t the council simply take the foxes away?

Foxes are not and never have been classified as ‘vermin’, so local authorities have no legal obligation to act against them.  They are also well aware there is little point.  Private “pest controllers’ who offer such a service often omit to inform you there is no such thing as a vacant territory.  Remove one fox and another will take over the territory within weeks.

Removal or destruction of foxes is, at best, an expensive confidence trick and at worst, an act of cruelty. Fox populations are self regulating.  They cannot over-populate, but will always breed back to replace numbers lost since the previous breeding season.  In fact, far from any increase in fox numbers, recent scientific surveys indicate stable populations in all areas apart from the south east, where numbers are around 10% lower than they were in 1998.

If you want to get your own way with foxes, forget about lethal ‘pest control’.  Deterrence is cheaper, more effective and more humane.

Diet

The Fox Project has rescued around 7000 foxes in the past nineteen years and has yet to find a starving adult fox.

Some folk suppose urban foxes do not know how to hunt, but, although scavenging is preferable and uses less energy than hunting, urban foxes are as adept at catching rats, mice, voles, rabbits and birds as their country cousins.

Conversely, rural foxes are just as dependent on scavenged food and road-kill as their city counterparts.  Although a necessary skill, particularly when more easily acquired food is unavailable, hunting is unlikely to be the preferred way of life for any fox.

Foxes do not depend on man’s generosity to keep them alive and one should bear in mind that a liking for foxes is not necessarily a view shared by all.

Many householders are avid fox-feeders, delighted to see foxes in their gardens.  They love to watch the cubs playing and some put out food in order to attract them.

This seemingly positive attitude to wildlife can have two detrimental results.

Foxes are lazy by nature and, if too much food is provided, your foxes may allow their territory to contract, losing much of it to other foxes simply because they see no reason to defend the larger area.  Suddenly, you are in hospital or on holiday and the food source dries up.  The only way your foxes will find enough food is to go back to the old ways.  But the old territory is no longer theirs.  Other foxes that have become established in these areas will not take kindly to sharing their resources, and trouble – even war – may ensue.

A second problem is that foxes may not eat everything provided.  They will bury food surplus to their requirements.  Perhaps they will return to these caches.  Perhaps they will not.  If the food is cached in the flowerbed of someone with an ‘anti’ attitude, they may decide to solve their problem by employing a ‘pest controller’.  You could kill by kindness.

But if you are determined to feed foxes, what should you provide?  Obviously, as one of Britain’s largest carnivores, meat protein is the first essential.  Natural prey, and the result of scavenging road kill provides roughage in the form of fur, feather and bone and a fox’s metabolism benefits from a high proportion of roughage.

As an opportunist, the fox will take advantage of any available food, and what is found in a rural area may vary from what is found in suburbia.  Also, some favourites, such as cranefly larvae, cockchafer grubs and soft or fallen fruit are seasonal.

The best available research indicates 95% of an average rural fox’s diet consists of meat, both hunted and scavenged, and mainly rabbits, rats, birds and small mammals. Insects and worms may constitute another 4% and the remaining 1% may consist of fruit.

However, in an urban area, natural prey and scavenged meat may cover only 55% of diet.  Insects and worms add a hefty 20%, fruit – 7%, with household leftovers making up the remaining 18%.

It is often possible to tell from fox droppings what food is presently in favour – or in season.  Good, healthy droppings are black and well formed.  A twist at one end will indicate fur or hair in the diet, suggesting scavenged or hunted prey.  Sloppy faeces may suggest an excess of fruit, which is readily available in late summer.

If you wish to feed foxes, please do so with some consideration towards neighbours, who may inherit discarded food.  Avoid large items such as bones or bread slices.  These are too easily removed and dropped elsewhere.

We would also recommend feeding with an eye to balancing protein and roughage – both important to a fox’s metabolism.  Canned dog food is fine. Peanuts and raisins are popular, cannot be carried away, and will satisfy a fox’s ‘sweet tooth’, and, because these small items take more time to gather, you will have the opportunity to watch foxes in your garden for longer periods without causing problems to your neighbours.

It is worth remembering – foxes don’t need us.  They have always coped.  They always will.

For more information about fox ecology, the book “Urban Foxes” is available to order on 01892 824111

Habitat

A fox, regardless of whether conditioned as a rural, urban or suburban animal, has three basic requirements.  First, it needs a secure ‘earth’ or ‘den’.  A rural fox will generally opt for a well camouflaged location as a home, preferably a tunnel beneath undergrowth, in a bank or between tree roots.

For an urban or suburban fox, suitable accommodation can be something as simple as an overgrown garden, the base of a shed or a railway embankment.  School grounds are attractive and most have foxes living on the premises, for the very good reason the foxes have vacant possession for much of the time.

Many schools have ‘temporary’ or portacabin-type classrooms with a void beneath, and these are excellent places to lie in wait for the abandoned crisp packet, fallen Mars Bar, or to enjoy the peace and quiet of evenings, weekends and school holidays.

Some folk refuse to accept wildlife belongs in their urban or suburban areas and suggest urban foxes should be ‘returned to the wild’.  But they already are in the wild – just a different type of wild – and they’re not going away.

Pigeons, starlings and squirrels were once exclusively rural.  Yet they, as well as badgers, kestrels, muntjac deer and sparrow hawks, make a good living deep inside our towns and cities today.  If an animal can survive – it belongs.

It is, in any event, entirely infeasible to consider removing an entire species from any location.  Any such operation would cost a fortune and would have no possible chance of success.

Neither would it receive official funding or backing, as the fox is not – and never has been – classified as ‘vermin’ by DEFRA (the only body legally able to classify an animal as such).  That consideration alone denies the animal is either dangerous or carries a threat of disease.

Research has shown that up to 75% of fox cubs in the London area are born beneath garden sheds.  As the courting and breeding seasons coincide with late winter and early spring, when we have little use for our gardens, their presence may go entirely unnoticed and will suffice for so long as it takes to raise cubs from infancy.

An adult suburban fox’s territory may consist of around 80 to 120 gardens, plus associated open space such as railway embankments, woodland, parks and schools.

Following the breeding season, such a territory may contain up to 10 foxes, including cubs, and the group may have three or four earths within that range.

As cubs develop and competition for food and territory increases, fox families need to break up, with cubs spreading out to surrounding territories. Few will disperse more than a few miles from their place of birth, but this is enough to give everyone that vital extra space.

When one considers over half the fox population dies each year, it becomes apparent there is always plenty of vacant territory to absorb dispersing juveniles.

A second factor essential to foxes – and to all of us – is water.  If there are no streams, canals or rivers nearby, the presence of garden ponds, swimming pools, birdbaths etc., are sufficient to satisfy this essential need.

More difficult to guarantee is a food resource.  However, The Fox Project has rescued around 7000 foxes in its 20 years history and has yet to find a starving adult fox.  Logically, an animal as smart as a fox is unlikely to remain, and breed, in an area with no food resource.

Some folk suppose urban foxes do not know how to hunt, but, while scavenging is preferable, and uses less energy than hunting, urban and suburban foxes are just as adept at hunting rats, mice, voles, rabbits and birds as their country cousins.

Conversely, rural foxes are just as dependent on scavenged food as their city counterparts.  Although a necessary skill, particularly when more easily acquired food is unavailable, hunting is unlikely to be the preferred way of life for any fox.

The fox population is generally self-regulating, refusing to overcrowd and breeding back virtually to the same number lost over the previous twelve months.

There is no reason to suppose the population is increasing and, in fact, in the south east, current numbers are estimated as being around 10% lower than in 1998.

For more information on fox ecology, the book “Urban Foxes” is available to order on 01892 824111.

Mange

In the UK, sarcoptic mange (sarcoptes scabeii) is the single most common infection in foxes.

Mange, or scabies, is a parasitic mite with numerous sub-species that infect different animals. That which causes canine or dog mange (sometimes inaccurately referred to as fox mange) differs from that which produces similar infections in other animals such as cats, horses or in humans.

Mange mites need a host on which to feed and breed, but they may survive in the environment for a considerable period and, being microscopic, are impossible to locate.

Some folk, concerned about mange affecting their dogs, suppose the answer is to remove infected foxes from the area.  This is simplistic and misses the point, as it fails to address the original reservoir of infection.

Rather than removing an infected fox – treat it!  Otherwise, the fox that will inevitably take over the vacant territory may contract mange from the same point the original fox was infected.  Result – no result!

Mange treatment given to captive foxes is usually successful, involving either a single ‘spot-on’ dose of Stronghold or Advocate (5 -10k) or two injections of Ivomec or Panomec (.125ml) given over a two week period.  Both treatments are best applied in conjunction with a broad spectrum antibiotic such as Baytril, Synulox or Noroclav to combat skin infection.

In most cases, captive foxes will have been cage trapped, but, to avoid the stress of capture, wildlife rescue groups will prefer not to trap a fox suffering with minor mange if it can be treated in its own environment.

Providing you can obtain veterinary support, Ivomec, Panomec or a single 25k Stronghold or Advocate may be applied orally, in food.  However, these treatments may be dangerous to pets and other species (and to suckling fox cubs, so this is risky to provide during the fox breeding season – between mid-February and early April) and a veterinary surgeon will require your assurance of a predictable feeding pattern.

If neither trapping nor treating on site with veterinary medication is appropriate, where does that leave you? More importantly where does it leave the foxes?

If a number of foxes need treatment but can’t be targeted individually, treatment in the wild is, at best, a shot in the dark.

Rather than risk an animal ingesting a high level of potentially dangerous veterinary products, a safer option should be considered.

Spectacular recoveries have been achieved by use of a homoeopathic remedy consisting of arsenicum 30c and sulphur 30c.

The Fox Project and Derbyshire Fox Rescue have found this treatment effective on foxes suffering up to 40% mange.  While positive results are less convincing on foxes suffering more than 40% visible mange, it nevertheless adds another string to our bow.

Another homoeopathic treatment involves psorinum, and Wildlife Aid (09061 800132) and Willow Wildlife (07956 472284) both recommend this treatment as effective.

“But are you sure they work?” we hear sceptics ask.

Well, if you consider complimentary treatments akin to voodoo – a placebo effect that only works because you believe in it – just bear in mind animals don’t have an opinion, don’t know they’re being treated  – and yet they get well!

Homoeopathic medications are available from the organisations listed above as well as  The Fox Project (01689 856361) who will provide arsenicum and sulphur to you for around £10.

Application of arsenicum and sulphur involves three to five drops (or tablets) daily for each affected fox.  It is best given on small items of food that make it difficult for the animal to remove, bury and thereby waste the medication.

Treatment should continue for three weeks.  However, if the animal deteriorates or fails to show signs of recovery, it may be appropriate to contact your local wildlife rescue centre to trap and treat in-house or to seek support from your vet.

For more information about mange or to obtain details of wildlife rescue groups in your area call 01892 824111 or 07778 909092.

Disease

In the UK, there is little or no danger of contracting disease from foxes.  The last case of canine rabies, once widespread in the UK, was in 1902, since when the disease has rapidly receded over most of Europe.  Neither parvo virus nor distemper have  ever been conclusively recorded in UK foxes, and no other serious health problems presently arise from the presence of foxes.

So what diseases can foxes carry?

Doctors routinely warn pregnant women of the dangers of toxoplasmosis, a parasite found in most species of animals and birds and which can affect the eyes, kidneys, blood, brain and nervous system of any species it infects.

50% of humans are infected with toxoplasmosis at some time in their lives, usually with no more than mild flu-like symptoms.  Once infected, humans are immune to further infection.  Infection is transmitted by the parasite’s eggs being excreted in animal faeces, but these are non-viable until exposed to the air for 24 hours, so swift disposal of faeces removes the likelihood of infection.  The primary host animal in the UK is the domestic cat.  All infections, both to humans and other animals, are derived from that source. It cannot be contracted from foxes.

One veterinary company advertised its canine wormer by insinuating dogs are liable to contract hookworm, uncinaria stenocephala,, from foxes.  A good marketing ploy, but there is absolutely no evidence to support that assertion.

Toxocara, a nematode roundworm for which most dogs are regularly treated, can also be carried by foxes.  As with toxoplasmosis, early disposal of faeces removes the potential for transmission as the eggs are not harmful until exposed to the air for 10-14 days.

In the UK, only around 20 people annually are known to be infected with any form of toxocareasis.  The last serious infection in the UK was 24 years ago and no case has ever been ascribed to a fox.  Both pet cats and dogs may carry toxocara (respectively, cati and canis) and the greater potential for human contraction is from those sources.

Fleas are found on virtually all animal species.  Those found on foxes are usually cat fleas, although wildlife rescue groups seldom encounter a healthy fox suffering with a heavy flea burden.

Foxes may suffer from sarcoptic mange, one of two types of dog mange present in the UK.  The other is demodectic mange, almost never found in foxes but more common than sarcoptic mange in domestic dogs.  Sarcoptic mange is sometimes referred to as ‘fox mange’ – misleading terminology and factually incorrect.  It is simply canine mange.  The mite may produce a mild allergic reaction similar to nettle rash in humans and other species and it is much more likely to arise from contact with an affected pet dog than from a fox, with which few humans have direct contact.

A fox bite is painful but offers less potential for infection than a domestic cat bite or scratch – cats being regarded in animal rescue circles as the animal most likely to transmit infection.  It is always wise to seek antibiotic cover for any animal bite, plus vaccination against tetanus, but this begs the question: how many people are bitten by foxes?

The answer is – unless you are a wildlife rescuer – hardly anyone.  Foxes are not aggressive by nature and sensationalist media stories of foxes biting people are usually unfounded or exaggerated.  Of the three high profile ‘fox bites baby’ stories reported over the past 12 years, two were discounted by medical evidence and both were subsequently ascribed to the family’s own pets.  Despite numerous offers of assistance, wildlife experts were denied access to the most recent, highly publicised incident and are unconvinced as to the story’s veracity.

Unfortunately, nipping of householders does occasionally take place.  This is often connected with that person foolishly encouraging a fox to take food from hand.  When the animal fails to receive the expected food, it sometimes takes the initiative.  It is also conceivable a fox suffering with concussion or toxoplasmosis could exhibit aggressive behaviour.  However, to give some sense of proportion, thousands of people are injured, maimed and even killed each year by pet dogs.  Thousands more are hospitalised with cat bites and scratches, bee and wasp stings.  A few are even killed by cattle!  Clearly, any comparable danger from foxes – who have never killed anyone – is minimal.

Where small pets are concerned, one must remember the fox is a predator.  If rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens etc., are housed outside, a good quality pen is vital, because these are all natural prey to a fox.  However, such concerns need not be felt for cats and dogs, most of which out-weigh the average 4.5kg adult fox, and where rare aggression is more often caused by a fox’s defence of young cubs rather than from other motivation.

In any event, many more householders contact us with stories of ‘chumming-up’ between a fox and the caller’s cat, dog or, rather more mysteriously, their rabbit (!) than with situations involving aggression.

For more information about mange, fox ecology or fox deterrence, call 01892 824111.

Other assistance and products can be found by following the link:

The Fox Project  http://foxproject.org.uk

Tel   01892 824111       

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